Thursday, 15 May 2014

Reflections ahead of the presidential elections

With the presidential elections in Ukraine only ten days away, there are a few questions still up in the air, with not much sign of them hitting the ground before polling day. Here are some of them. 

Will the elections be able to go ahead at all?

There may be some cause for optimism here: The Verkhovna Rada today (May 15) passed an election law that would allow the election results to be validated even if some regions or districts were not to provide a return. Although Donetsk region and Luhansk region are still not fully under the control of the government, and an active campaign by the separatists to thwart the presidential poll is underway, this could still allow Kyiv to claim to have elected a legitimate president on May 25 - if there is unimpeded voting in the rest of the country. Of course, the separatists, even after a legitimate vote, could continue to claim that their part of the country is still not adequately represented, but from a legal point of view the result would stand. All the same, there is still a significant risk that up to 15% of Ukraine’s electorate (in Donestk and Luhansk) might be disenfranchised by the chaos in the east of the country. While that wouldn’t necessarily derail the vote, it would guarantee political problems further down the track. Of course, if violence of the scale seen in Odesa and Mariupol recently were to erupt all around the country, there would be little chance of holding a credible vote, but the security gains made by the government in recent days give hope that order, if not the law, will be maintained on polling day in most of Ukraine.

Who are the easterners going to vote for? 

Even if they do make it into the voting booth, people from the east of Ukraine might have problems choosing whose name to tick: The front-runners are all from the other camp, and the candidates from the east are a mixed bag of freaks, losers and clowns. Realistically, the only option they have is the odious turncoat Serhiy Tighipko, who has allegedly been polling better than Tymoshenko recently. But nationally he is still wallowing in single digits, and has no chance of making it past the first round, far less taking up residence in Bankova. The next president will not be from the east, and there won’t be an opportunity to make sure the eastern regions can send their own to Kyiv until the next elections to parliament.

Will the vote be fair? 

Front-runner Petro Poroshenko, according to Ukrainian political expert Ivan Lozowy, has long been salting the electoral-campaign well by commissioning polls that invariably place him at the head of the pack, creating the impression among the voting public that the chocolate juggernaut is inevitably destined to come to rest with a comfortable splat behind the big desk in the Presidential Administration. That said, the vote itself should be fair, given that more than 1,000 international observers have been parachuted in to keep a close eye on the vote itself. All the same, Ukraine has virtually no democratic tradition, and the Yanukovych presidency showed how easy it was to reverse the fair voting gains that were made after the Orange Revolution. And with disorder liable to break out anywhere in the south or east, the vote count could be even more problematic than usual. Ukraine’s arcane voting system, with its “wet stamps” and outrageously biased local electoral commissions, has so many weak links that any number of breaks could appear between the polling booth and the final tally. Remember the five “problem districts” that couldn’t return a result for months after the 2012 Rada elections? Such problems could be repeated anywhere across the south and east of the country if there is a determined campaign by pro-Russian activists to disrupt the vote. Disputed vote counts, forged stamps, stuffed ballot boxes, ballot boxes being blown up… the possibilities are tiresomely endless.

Will Russia scupper the vote?

No matter how we might pout and fume about the influence Big Brother next door has on Ukrainian politics, this question has to be addressed. Russia has refused to recognize the legitimacy of the current interim Ukrainian government, even though it was elected by a parliament with a full mandate and in keeping with all the procedures foreseen in the Ukrainian constitution. Russia will have a harder task proving its case if an orderly vote goes ahead on May 25, so we can expect Moscow to do its damnedest to throw the whole poll into doubt. The very worst thing the Kremlin could do is send its tanks in on May 25, but it is more likely, militarily, that Moscow will be content just to hold some threatening exercises on the border, as it has already said it will do. Inside Ukraine, Russia will try to cause as much trouble as it can by bombarding Ukraine’s Russophone population with propaganda suggesting that the vote itself is illegitimate – expect the Russian media to reach new levels of anti-Kyiv hysteria in this regard in the days before the vote. Acts of voting sabotage can be expected in Donetsk and Luhansk, and maybe in Odesa, Mykolayiv, Zaporizha and Kherson – the oblasts of “Novorussia” – a territory Putin has his greedy eyes on. The tiniest incident or problem will be gleefully recorded by Russian reporters, blown up out of all proportion, and then given massive coverage by RT. This is probably the biggest threat to the vote in Ukraine: that it will be free and fair, but undermined and made less credible in the eyes of the world by a massive onslaught of Russian media troll commentary, negative news hype, and outright lies. With its new style of warfare, Russia has shown that the pen, while not necessarily mightier than the sword, can be used in handy combination with a threatening blade to conquer first minds, and then territory.

1 comment:

  1. Russia is doing everything it can to disrupt and attack the legitimacy of the upcoming Ukrainian presidential elections

    The state-controlled Russian media is scandalously distorting and falsifying treatment of events in Ukraine. He has convinced some people in Russia that Kyiv is ruled by "fascists" and "neo-Nazis".

    This false narrative is being used by Putin to punish Ukraine for daring to move towards Europe and reject Russian-style autocracy.